A Day in the Life: Photographing West Virginia

I thought it might be interesting to see what a “typical” day looks like when I’m off on a photo trip. When I return from one of these trips, friends and family will often ask “how was your vacation?” The truth is, these trips are anything but a relaxing vacation.  I enjoy them, yes, but these are work trips and often entail 12 to 16 hour days of driving, exploring, hiking, and yes, photographing. So here’s a run down of a day on my recent trip to West Virginia with K. Wilkinson Photography.

6:15am – With the weather report showing rain at sunrise, we decided to sleep a bit- yes I know, 6:15am is sleeping in when it comes to landscape photography. Normally, when shooting at sunrise, I plan a return to my lodging to shower after catching sunrise. But since there was no sunrise due to the overcast, we slept a little later, and then showered for the day, knowing it would be a long one.  

7:11am – We leave the AirBnB we’re staying at and head to Babcock State Park, one of the primary locations we wanted to visit, and site of the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a replica of the old mills that used to dot the area. Reports were that the autumn foliage was at peak color, so with fingers crossed, we set out in the dark.  

8:20am (approximately) – We arrived at Babcock and the weather report appears to have been mistaken. The reports we consulted all stated that the rain that had hung around overnight would be moving on by 8am. It was pouring now, so we sat in the car and waited.  

9:15am – The rain seemed to be letting up, so we pulled our gear out and walked to the spot we wanted to start photographing from. As soon as we got there, it began to downpour again. I took cover under some trees, but still got pretty wet. Kristen opted to head back to the car.  

9:45am – The rain lets up some, and fed up with waiting, I decide it’s time to start making some images. I don’t mind shooting in rain, but there comes a point where it’s just smarter to wait. The rain wasn’t adding anything to these images, so I was happy to see it starting to let up.  

10:08am – The rain picks up again. I quickly pack my gear back up to get it out of the rain and head to the visitors center, which had opened a few minutes before.  

10:15-ish am – The visitor’s center opened at 10, so to kill some time, we went inside to look around and see what information we could find out from the park staff.  We had no cell service, but thankfully they had Wi-Fi, so we were able to check the latest weather reports (rain moving on at 11:30 or 12).  

10:30am – We walk back outside, and the rain is just a light drizzle. I took a few shots from just outside the visitors center, then climb down the went rocks to the creek bed, to get some images from this vantage point. It was slick but not terrible. I worked a few spots along this area for the next half hour, taking my last image here at 11:00am exactly.  

11:00am – We leave Babcock State Park, in search of breakfast/lunch.

11:45am – We find ourselves sitting in a place called Tudor’s Biscuit World, where we’ve just ordered breakfast sandwiches on biscuits. I have to say, the biscuits were delicious and just what we needed to keep us going until later in the day.

1:04pm – I make my first image at Dunloup Creek Falls. Dunloup Creek runs parallel to the road to Thurmond, West Virginia, an abandoned railroad town that is now part of the National Park System. We stop at the falls to photograph on our way to Thurmond, spending about a half hour here. These falls were stunning, with the railroad tracks running along one side of the creek and Thurmond Road running along the other.  This was one of those great spots that you pull up to with no hike required. However, getting down to the creek bed was treacherous. The rocks were slick from the rain, and the creek bed itself was very slippery due to the coating of slime the rocks get from algea, moss, and water. Micro spikes on your shoes are called for here. We finished up here right around 1:30pm and headed on to Thurmond.

1:45pm – We arrive in Thurmond and head into the visitors center to get some information. Very cool place with a lot of history. The old train station is like a scene from another time. Unfortunately, while we were there, the light became very harsh and made it difficult to get a good shot of it. But walking down Main Street yielded a few interesting shots. My favorite here was the old bank.  

2:20pm – We leave Thurmond, backtracking a bit. We had a specific spot in mind for sunset- Sandstone Falls- so we had to go back up and around. We also wanted to visit an old covered bridge, Herns Mill, near Lewisburg.  So off we went, keeping an eye out for anything interesting along the way.

3:49pm – Driving along the back roads of West Virginia, we come across an old farm, with a very cool looking barn off in a field. We stop quickly and make a few photos, cursing the fact that the light wasn’t better.

4:02pm – We arrive at Herns Mill Bridge. The weather today is just not cooperating and we’re stuck with flat, gray light. The foliage is still a bit on the greener side here, but we’ve come all this way, so we put our frustration aside and make some images.  

4:27pm – As we’re heading to Sandstone Falls, we pass a Mail Pouch Barn. Mail Pouch Barns are barns that were used by the Mail Pouch Tobacco Company as billboards, with the most visible side painted with an advertisement for the chewing tobacco. We’d been looking for these the entire trip. This one was a little older and beat up, and the vantage points weren’t great, but I was able to make one or two images of the barn.

5:30-ish pm -  We arrive at Sandstone Falls, completely unprepared for how gorgeous these falls are. Stretching across the 1500 foot breadth of the New River, the falls don’t get much higher than about 20 feet, but the volume of water going over these falls, after the earlier rain, was just tremendous. There is a boardwalk that leads you to a certain point where you can view parts of the falls, but to view the main falls, you have to hike through some woods on a bushwhack trail to get to the front view of the main section of the falls. The biggest problem with this is that there are two stream crossings where you have to rock hop to get across. Not impossible but with 20 or 30 lbs. of gear on your back it becomes a bit more treacherous. We made it across and got the to the banks overlooking the main falls.  

5:57pm – I make my first image of the falls. Sunset is at 6:32pm, and the clouds are breaking up just enough to add some texture to the sky. The light is still somewhat flat but the clouds are filtering some nice color through. I’m starting to get a little concerned that we’ll be hiking through the woods in the dark and the two stream crossings were big worries.  

6:27pm – I make my last image of Sandstone falls for the day and quickly pack up to start the hike back. Kristen does the same. We hike back and by the time we get to the parking lot, it is dark. We get in the car and start to drive back to our AirBnB in Beaver, West Virginia, 40 minutes away. The GPS takes us over Irish Mountain Road, which is only a road in the most basic sense. This road is pure dirt, lots of pot holes, and no lights. It was only really wide enough for one vehicle. But it was the most direct route to Beaver and until we got on it, we had no idea it was just a dirt path hat climbed over the mountain. It was quite the adventure taking switchback after switchback in the dark, but we eventually made it over.

7:48pm – We had called ahead and ordered a pizza from a place in Beaver, which we are now picking up.

8pm – Back at the AirBnB, we open the pizza. Being from NY, I’m a bit of a pizza snob (ok, I’m a BIG pizza snob!), but this pizza was surprisingly good. Maybe it was just the fact that we’d now been on the go for almost 13 hours, but it hit the spot, along with a couple of beers we picked up.  

9pm – Downloading images to my laptop for review, and planning the next day’s locations. Finally made it to bed around 10:30, with our wake up coming at 5:30am the next morning.  

So it was a full day, on the go almost non-stop, but it was pretty typical for these trips, where the objective is to photograph as much as possible. We dealt with weather that was less than ideal, but overall, I was pretty happy with the images I had made, and was excited for another day exploring West Virginia.